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Vancouver’s DTES Heart of the City Festival

Heart of the City Festival

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival celebrates the area’s art, history, culture and people through live theatre, music, workshops and more.

In 2021 the festival ran from October 27th until November 7th. It featured twelve days of live and online events including stories, poetry, discussions, ceremonies, films, readings, forums, workshops, art talks, history talks and visual art exhibitions.

The next Heart of the City Festival is scheduled to run from October 26th until November 6th in 2022.


Click Heart of the City Festival for the event’s 2021 schedule of events.


Heart of the City Festival Band
Festival Street Entertainment in 2021


DTES Heart of the City Festival

The annual Heart of the City Festival shares traditions, art forms and stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Local organizations partner with the festival and help organize events such as readings, musical performances, galleries, talks and celebrations.

2020 was a year of struggles and problems worldwide, with issues impacting Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside especially hard. Last year’s theme was “This Gives Us Strength,” which was something that all of us needed!

The festival’s theme for 2021 was “Stories We Need to Hear”, which seemed appropriate given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the fentanyl crisis and the reality of systemic racism.

The festival is presented by the Vancouver Moving Theatre in partnership with the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, the Carnegie Community Centre, and several other community partners.


Heart of the City Festival


Festival Dates and Locations

In 2021, the festival ran from Wednesday, October 27th, until Sunday, November 7th. Events are typically held throughout Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic, most (but not all) activities happened online.

The 2021 season featured both live and online events. There were workshops, panel discussions, music performances, storytelling events, theatre, visual art exhibits and other activities.


Click Heart of the City Festival for the event’s official website.


Festival Activities

During years when there isn’t a global pandemic, multiple events take place each day, many of which are free or by donation. Events include music, theatre, poetry, film, dance, multimedia, visual arts, history walks, workshops and panel discussions.

In 2021, the festival featured over one hundred events!


2021 Events

Below are some of the events that were scheduled for 2021. These are just examples of what you could expect. For the full lineup see the DTES Hear of the City Festival‘s website.


We Live Here

Wednesday, October 27th, to Friday, October 29th

  • A dramatic video project curated by Jerry Whitehead, Wendy Peeters and Jared Sharpe, featuring visual art from local talent.
  • 8:00 pm at 500 Block Carrall at East Pender.


50 Years of Creative Collaboration: Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling

Wednesday, October 27th, to Sunday, November 7th

  • An exhibit celebrating the duo’s 50th year of collaborating was on display at the Carnegie at 401 Main Street.

Sunday, October 31st

  • A free online dialogue with a variety of special guests started at 1:00 pm.


Terry Hunter & Savannah Walling
T. Hunter & S. Walling



Thursday, October 28th, to Sunday, October 31st, and then from Wednesday, November 3rd, until Sunday, November 7th.

  • A theatre and dance presentation regarding the infamous “#metoo” movement.
  • At the Russian Hall, located at 600 Campbell Avenue.


Walking Tours in Chinatown

Saturday, October 30th

  • A couple of walking tours through Chinatown that were full of fascinating stories and information.
  • Began at 10:00 and 10:30 am.


Magic – It’s Personal

Saturday, October 30th

  • Fun, light-hearted magic performed by Merlin Cosmos that viewers could try at home.
  • Pre-recorded and made available online at 7:00 pm.


Hearts Beat 2021

Tuesday, November 2nd

  • A collaborative event that featured Indigenous and Irish drumming, dancing and singing.
  • Watch the event live online at 12:00 pm.


My Art Is Activism: Part III

Tuesday, November 2nd

  • Videos by DTES resident Sid Chow Tan about Chinese Canadian social movements, followed by a Q&A session with Sid himself.
  • Available online at 3:00 pm.


Sid Chow Tan (by David Cooper)
Sid Chow Tan (by David Cooper)


DTES Front & Centre

Tuesday, November 2nd

  • A musical showcase in honour of Joyce Morgan, featuring several musicians and special guests followed by a Q&A session.
  • An online presentation at 7:00 pm.


Indigenous Journeys: Solos by Three Women

Wednesday, November 3rd

  • Creative and emotional pieces by three women personally involved with the Downtown Eastside.
  • Stream the pre-recorded event at 7:00 pm.


Kat Zucomul'wat Norris
Kat Zucomul’wat Norris


Further We Rise Collective with Sacred Rock

Friday, November 5th, to Sunday, November 7th

  • They launched their Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey with a ceremony, teachings and storytelling activities.
  • In-person at Oppenheimer Park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as at Strathcona Park on Saturday.


In addition to the above, there were many other events worth checking out. For more details regarding each event, visit the Heart of the City Festival website.


2021 Festival Video

The following video features artists and other people that participated in the festival in 2021. Photos in the video are by David Cooper.



About the Festival

The DTES Heart of the City Festival is presented by the Vancouver Moving Theatre. In a typical year the event includes 100 or more events at as many as forty or so different locations.

Vancouver Moving Theatre is a community-engaged arts organization that is based in the city’s Downtown Eastside. It creates original productions including Bah Humbug! which was an annual Christmas play that raised funds for the DTES Heart of the City Festival up until 2019.

The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods, rich in culture and heritage, and the historic heart of the city.


Day Of the Dead Altar Video

November 2nd is known as the Day of the Dead in Mexico. It’s kind of like Halloween, but where Mexicans celebrate the return of departed souls. It’s not a scary day (even though some of its decorations look kind of scary). The occasion is commemorated with Day of the Dead altars, which are called “Altars de los Muertos” in Spanish. People also dress up as “Catrinas” in scull-like makeup and skeleton costumes.

The video below is of a Day of the Dead Altar in downtown Vancouver during the Heart of the City Festival in 2020. Interestingly, the DTES festival coincides with Latin American Heritage Month which was celebrated in Vancouver from October 14th until November 2nd in 2021.



Other Information

For the most up-to-date information regarding the DTES festival see the Heart of the City Festival website.

Other articles that might be of interest include the following:

Note: Photos in this article in 2021 (including the ones at the top of this page but not any with the Vancouver’s Best Places logo), are by David Cooper.